Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Hobbit Captures a Sense of Childhood Wonder

By Holly Hines

Elijah Jones as Bilbo Baggins; photo by Rob Merritt

Coralville-“Good times always bring dragons,” says Thorin Oakenshield (Kyle Lefeber), a dwarf in City Circle Acting Company’s production of The Hobbit... and Friday night’s show fulfilled this promise. Patricia Gray’s stage adaptation of this fantasy story, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, chronicles the escapades of Bilbo Baggins, a reluctant homebody turned hero. The cast consists of both children and adults — and in this performance, the mix worked.

The play began with a single spotlight shining on Bilbo (Elijah Jones), seated cross-legged, enjoying breakfast. He was quickly interrupted by Gandalf (Kim Qual), summoning him for an adventure. Both characters’ personalities came through as they conversed. Jones conveyed Bilbo’s skittish yet polite demeanor, while Qual exuded the grandeur of Gandalf.

A bit of the comedic value in Bilbo and Gandalf’s conversation was lost to odd inflections, initially, but the actors quickly resolved this uneasiness as they found their chemistry. Throughout the performance, Jones’ rendition of Bilbo remained earnest and humorous, garnering the audience’s laughter.

(l-r) Anna Lindower as Bofur, Jones as Baggins;
photo by Rob Merritt
After Bilbo and Gandalf met, a throng of dwarves came banging at Bilbo’s door — each played by a child donning a long, graying beard. Toby Epstein, playing Kili, and Frances Bottorff, playing Fili, were a great match as the peppy, energetic dwarf brothers. Miriam Marlowe made a memorable entrance as the clownish, bumbling Bombur. Likewise, Serena Collins did an excellent job hobbling around stage as Balin, the eldest dwarf.

After the dwarves convinced Bilbo to help them pursue treasure, a new set of fantasy creatures emerged: trolls. The troll trio, played by Tempest Wisdom, James Toth, and Logan Natvig, used physical comedy exceptionally, sniffing and poking at Bilbo to size him up as a meal. Jason Tipsword’s choreography worked well in this scene, and in the next.

After meeting trolls, the adventurers stumbled on goblins. The Great Goblin (Keon Hunt) wore an effectively creepy mask of blue makeup, designed by Lori Beatty-Fye. He directed his attendants to attack the dwarves — leading to a shock as one goblin leapt out, surprising dwarves and audience members alike, just before Tipsword’s fantastic swordfight choreography.

Jilly Cooke as Gollum, Jones as Baggins; photo by Jackie Jensen

Among the play’s most memorable scenes was the introduction of Gollum, played by talented actress and eighth grader, Jilly Cooke. Cooke immersed herself in the character. She powerfully embodied his odd manners of speech and his eerie, desperate confusion. Her rendition of Gollum’s voice was spot-on — and so was her body language. Throughout the scene, she allowed her shoulders and arms to contort and writhe. She effectively shifted her attention between Bilbo and the audience, and fell to the floor in believable agony upon realizing the “precious” ring was missing.

As the story wound to a close, the audience met elven royalty, as well as the dragon, Smaug (Anna Baynton). Smaug’s costume and makeup were a dazzling display of red and orange. Across the front of her faux-scaled leotard, Baynton wore a sparkling suit of “diamond” armor. This get-up, designed by Becca Goldknopf Anderson, struck me as one of the play’s most beautiful visuals.

The lighting direction of Caleb Clark caught my attention, as well. At several instances, a single spotlight introduced Bilbo, seated with his diary, detailing his adventures. This echoed the opening of the play, and its repetition helped string scenes together into a whole narrative.

Clark used lighting to effectively introduce other characters, as well. Lightning-like patterns shone off-stage around the audience just before the elves appeared. Then, the Elven Queen (Rebecca Marlowe) and her guards (Libby Ruth and K. Lindsay Eaves) emerged on-stage into a field of scattered, misty-looking lights, resembling dappled sunlight through forest trees. Smaug poked his head out in a flood of red, while Gollum crept about in a dim haze of purple.

Jones as Baggins;
photo by Rob Merritt
Overall, Jones’ performance as Bilbo, Cooke’s rendition of Gollum, and the play’s intriguing visuals held my attention. I was thoroughly impressed by the apparent hard work and talent of the play’s younger cast members, and was reminded of the wonder I first experienced reading Tolkien’s novel.

The Hobbit runs through Nov 4 at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, with performances Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets available online or through the CCPA box office. $22-27 ($17 students/seniors; $12 children).

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